By Joakim Ydebäck
It has been a long time since we had this many colourful and original political leaders as we do now. Despite a populist trend in most Western countries with politicians claiming to know the general will of the people, it might be interesting to examine how many of them actually are people. As the number of political crises and division grows, so has the success of seemingly ludicrous political leaders. Who are these people to whom we have assigned our political power? The purpose is not to make anti-populist remarks or, for that matter, propagate for a revolt against elitist politicians who claim to speak for the people. Instead, this is nothing more than a mere examination that may or may not come to a conclusion.
As his first order of business, Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, chose to close down the House of Commons. Or to prorogue it, as it is called. As the members of parliament had just come back from their summer holiday, they were ordered to go back home again. It was a way for the government to devise a strategy for the future, the government itself claimed. It was a way to hinder parliament from stopping a no-deal Brexit, the opposition claimed. The prorogation was illegal, said a court in Scotland. The prorogation was not for the judiciary to meddle in, said a court in London. The Prime Minister was asked to resign. The Speaker of the House resigned instead. Does any of this make sense? Ultimately, the British Supreme Court came to the decision that Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament was in fact unlawful. Brenda Hale, President of the Supreme Court, stated the following: “This Court has already concluded that the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect […] The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued.”
The danger of writing about Brexit is that the examples used may also end up being void and of no effect before publication. Brexit has proven to contain a series of unfortunate and unpredictable events. But what this episode represents is the trend of political strife and turmoil. As a bystander, or rather as a voter, episodes like this may appear absurd. And in fact, there are a number of episodes like these. Let us delve into two more of autumn’s farces.
By now the impeachment inquiry against American President Donald Trump is common knowledge. In a phone call with the newly-elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump made it clear that the American military support to Ukraine was conditional. It was vital for Trump to find out more about his political opponent Joe Biden’s son and his alleged illegal activities in Ukraine. While such a request was regarded by the Democrats in the US Congress as unconstitutional, the two gentlemen seemed to agree very well with each other. What unites these gentlemen is not only brotherly affection and connections with Eastern European oligarchs. In fact, they are both former tv-stars who were at first ridiculed for their political ambitions but has since managed to gain widespread public support. Zelensky, a former comedian, even played the Ukrainian President in a tv-series, a role eerily similar to the political position that he acquired later. So a question remains: how much are they still playing their former roles?
Lastly, people may already have forgotten about the horrific fires in the Amazon. It is not only an environmental tragedy but it also led to this year’s most absurd feud. French President Emmanuel Macron stated that the fires were an international crisis and that the G7 member states should act. The statement was highly disliked by the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who accused Macron of having a colonial mindset since the issue would be resolved without the involvement of Brazil and other neighbouring countries. So far, just a matter of bad diplomacy. But when the discussion deteriorated over whose wife was the youngest and most beautiful, the feud took a new strange turn. While the forest was burning, the world leaders with the most resources to stop them were too busy bickering about personal matters. The newspapers were more keen on covering this infected exchange rather than reporting on what actually mattered. Does anyone even know if the Amazon is still burning or not?
The purpose of this article has not been to create a division between politicians and the people who elect them. Of course politicians are human. But when imagining some of our modern, more vivid political figures it is difficult not to imagine them as characters from a satirical novel. Calling politicians pigs would be a bit on the nose, but it is difficult to ignore the Orwellian qualities of people like Boris Johnson or Donald Trump. If we go back to the opening remarks: It has been a long time since we had this many colourful and original political leaders as we do now. And that fact has created a schism between people in our time, as well as a schism between politicians themselves and the people who elected them. We may live in an Orwellian age but perhaps we should be glad that it seems to be more like Animal Farm than 1984?
Illustration: Jonas Hemlin
Joakim Ydebäck is studying at the Peace and Development Program at Uppsala University. After that, his goal is to somehow make the world just a little bit better. If he were to be offered the position of foreign minister, he would not say no. His four main interests include talk radio, international opinion polls, political crises and somber jazz music.